BOISE — Two closely watched gun-related bills passed the Idaho House of Representatives on Thursday, following lengthy and impassioned debate from lawmakers.
One of the bills, from Rep. Christy Zito, R-Hammett, would let 18- to 21-year-olds carry a concealed handgun without a permit within city limits; the other, from Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, would restrict access to firearms for certain convicted sex offenders.
Zito’s bill passed 53-14-3 along party lines, with all south-central Idaho Republicans voting to pass the bill and Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, and Rep. Muffy Davis, D-Ketchum, voting against. The vote for Wintrow’s bill was closer — 37-31-2 —with support from both Democrats and Republicans.
Supporters of the concealed carry bill pointed out that Idahoans between the ages of 18 and 21 are already allowed to conceal a handgun outside city limits, and argued that teenagers living in urban areas are just as capable of learning to handle a gun responsibly as teenagers in rural areas. Critics of the bill, including House Minority Leader Rep. Mat Erpelding of Boise, said they worried young people whose brains are still developing might impulsively use their concealed firearm in a fight, particularly if alcohol is added to the equation.
“I don’t think that this is an end-of-the-world, sky-is-falling piece of legislation,” Erpelding said. “But I just want to point out that from what I’ve heard from my colleagues...you don’t like it when I come into your rural communities and tell you what to do. It’s a little hard sometimes for those of us who represent cities to have rural folks come in and tell us what to do.”
Zito and other supporters of the bill said they trusted 18-year-olds not to use their weapons irresponsibly. “We are by nature a responsible citizenry,” Zito said. “I have faith in the citizens of our state and our citizens between 18 and 21 years old. They’re not going to go out and do stupid stuff.”
Wintrow’s bill generated equally lengthy, at times heated, debate. Current law restricts firearm access for people convicted of sexual battery of a child under 16 but does not restrict access for those convicted of sexual battery of a child 16 or 17 years old when the perpetrator is at least five years older. Wintrow’s bill would change that, with exceptions for certain crimes, such as taking indecent photos of a 16- or 17-year-old.
“I’ve heard a lot of talk in this body about personal responsibility and how we do things in Idaho,” Wintrow said. “I do think it is the personal responsibility to know the age of anyone we have sexual contact with, and I will never apologize for that. If we can’t trust their judgment here, why would we trust them with a deadly weapon?”
The bill was criticized on the floor by several female Republican lawmakers, including Zito and Rep. Judy Boyle of Midvale, who expressed concern over how the bill could impact the convicted sex offenders affected.
“These days I see girls who I think are 25 and they’re 14 or 15,” Boyle said. “Parents are not paying much attention to the way girls are dressed or the makeup they put on. Today we are putting everything on the males in society.”
Zito similarly said she worried about the “unintended consequences” for young men, adding that sometimes underage girls go to bars with fake IDs.
Two Republican male lawmakers spoke in support of the bill: Rep. Greg Chaney of Caldwell and Rep. Lance Clow of Twin Falls.
“These are convicted child molesters,” Chaney said. “As far as I’m concerned, they should feel lucky if they’re even walking around free.”
Clow pointed out that a person can have their access to firearms restricted for threatening a state official.
“So I had to decide, is a felony threat against me equal to the sexual battery of a minor child 16 or 17 years old?” Clow said. “I’d say that sexual battery is a heinous type of offense and I cannot see why we would not put that on the list.”
Among south-central Idaho lawmakers, those who voted in favor of Wintrow’s bill were: Clow, Davis, Toone, Rep. Linda Wright Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, Rep. Clark Kauffman, R-Twin Falls, Rep. Laurie Lickley, R-Twin Falls, and Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley.
Zito and Rep. Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, voted against the bill.
Both bills will now go to the Senate.